Fre Hodgson, who turned 103 last September, learnt to send her first email a year ago.
The quest for the secret of a longer life has led scientists to study centenarians in Japan, Greek islands and Himalayan kingdoms — but new research to be published this week will reveal the remarkable record of a village in the Surrey stockbroker belt. Women who move into the leafy retirement settlement of Whiteley Village, a charitable community near Walton-on-Thames, can look forward to up to five extra years of life. The village has 11 centenarians among its 500 residents and many remain independent well into their nineties. Fre Hodgson (pictured above), who turned 103 last September, learnt to send her first email a year ago and now sends weekly updates to her far-flung family of 52, many of whom live in Australia and Zimbabwe. Phyllis Rowlands, 94, who says she used to drink, smoke and gamble, enjoys the vibrancy of the place. “You’ve got everything. There’s always something going on here.” Pearl Wilkinson, 96, who first came to the village to work, has a simple explanation for her longevity: “Dancing is my secret. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
Most extraordinarily of all, the gains in longevity have been recorded over several decades in women from the poorest 20% of the population, who would usually be expected to die earlier than average. The village was begun 100 years ago with a £1m bequest from the founder of Whiteley’s department store in Bayswater, West London, to provide homes for “poor persons” in old age. It includes 262 alms-houses set in its sprawling wooded acres. Most of the residents rely on housing benefit to pay the cost of their almshouse. The Whiteley Homes Trust, which runs the village, subsidises those whose nursing care needs are not fully met by the State. Meena Davies, who will turn 100 in August, said she was attracted by the social cachet. “It’s a bit posh. I feel you are a bit posher if you live in Surrey.” The benefits of the way of life at Whiteley are so dramatic that a new charitable foundation is to share its principles for improving how people age across the UK. It will also be wired up to become a “smart village”, allowing tech companies and scientists from Surrey University to experiment with new ways of promoting good health and wellbeing.
Whiteley is an idyllic spot, within walking distance of St George’s Hill, Weybridge, a wealthy private estate once popular with rock stars and Russian oligarchs. Chandra McGowan, chief executive of the Whiteley Village Trust, insists, however, that this is not the underlying reason for its success. She said residents were told on arrival to take as much control over their lives as possible and to interact socially. “It is a give-and-take community,” she said. ‘When we admit residents, we ask: What are you good at? What might you contribute?’ “For example, when we asked for volunteers last year, Pam, an 85-year-old retired teacher, offered to give one-on-one lessons to overseas staff to improve their English.” McGowan said the village’s ethos of active community living could help the nation rethink its approach to old age.
Inside the village where 11 people have hit the 100 mark
The new research on Whiteley was led by Les Mayhew, a professor in actuarial science at Cass Business School, London. Researchers analysed the detailed medical records of 2,416 Whiteley residents over the years since 1917, when the first one moved in. Mayhew found that a woman who arrived in 1960 at the age of 67 could expect to live for 19.2 more years – 4.9 years longer than the median for a woman in England and Wales. The gain would have been even greater if this figure had been adjusted for economic class. The gap was narrower for the 1980 intake, as general living standards for pensioners improved, yet a female resident who arrived aged 67 could still have expected to live an extra 3.3 years, adjusted for social class. This put them ahead of women in the richest 20% of the population nationally.
Mayhew said: “There is an irony that an Edwardian philanthropist has in some ways done better than the welfare state in helping look after the elderly. It may have taken us 100 years to start learning some of the lessons.” Baroness Greengross, chief executive of the International Longevity Centre UK, which is publishing the findings, said they were significant because of the socioeconomic background of those studied. However, while women appear to benefit greatly from the community, men have enjoyed much less of a boost. The researchers say this may be because they arrived having already damaged their health with heavy smoking, poor diet and high alcohol consumption. And not all resident care for the vibrant Whiteley spirit. Audrey Simons, who will be 101 in March, said: “I don’t go to the sherry mornings. I don’t like sherry in the mornings.”
Whiteley Village already provides over 25% of the “Supported Housing” in the borough of Elmbridge. Now the Trustees of the Whiteley Homes Trust have submitted the full planning application for the next stage in the development of the Whiteley Village. The proposals include building a new ‘Care Hub’ to include 30 nursing care suites and communal space for social activity, and refurbishing Whiteley House – a Grade 11 listed building – to provide more extra-care homes. They also include 62 new Alms Houses of the Future, incorporating the latest technology for healthy living and where care and support can be delivered economically. Chandra McGowan, the Chief Executive, said: “From outstandingly beautiful homes, to quality care and support, and a vibrant community, there are many things about our Village that residents and staff alike can be very proud of. Over the next few years, we will have even more cause for pride, as staff and residents work together to develop the plans for Whiteley’s future. Our ambition is to make the Whitely Village THE place in Britain where older people can retire in safety and be happy.”
Peter Wilkinson, Chair of the Whiteley Homes Trust, explained: “Increased life expectancy and frailty means that more support is required by older people. In our first 100 years Whiteley has learned a lot about how to help older people to live longer because they live well in later life. But there is a growing demand for care, putting enormous pressure on government funding. Whiteley’s approach probably saves money for the NHS and social services. Now we are establishing the Whiteley Foundation for Ageing Well to connect with others around the world who believe that a longer life needs to be a better life, and are determined to find ways to make sure it is.” The Prince of Wales is the Patron of the Whiteley Homes Trust appeal and the hope is that the first stage of the new development can be started in time to commemorate the centenary of the year when the first resident moved into the Village. All the details of the application should be available on the Elmbridge Council’s planning website.
An aerial view of Whiteley Village, a retirement village in Surrey, run for the benefit of older people of limited means
Not surprisingly there is a quite a waiting list to get into Whiteley Village, so Members of the Oxshott Bridge Club should maybe put their names down soon if they wish to move in??!! Meanwhile there was quite a crowd who attended our regular Club Night yesterday evening; there were 15 full Tables!! You can read all about it in the Report by clicking on the "Competitions" tab in the Menu to the left of this box. Altenatively you can study the full Leaderboard and the individual Travellers by clicking on the "Latest Result" button at the top right of this page.